The Origin of Things

orchard invisiblethoreau

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.Welsh proverb

It’s the season of hope, and the season to sow seeds — also a good time to learn more about the compact marvel of nature that is a seed. A great place to begin is Jonathan Silvertown’s An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds. This book brings the simple seed to life, describing their clever strategies for dispersal — employing wind, prickly burs, birds & bees — always ending with the successful propagation of the species. An Orchard Invisible is science writing at its best, especially when it describes the delicate coevolution between plants and animals. As New Scientist writes: “Seeds may look small and boring, yet tricks, bribes and devious deceptions lie at the heart of their evolution, as ecologist Jonathan Silvertown entertainingly recounts in this fascinating celebration of the green world upon which all human life depends.

Another indispensable book on seeds is Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds & Other Late Natural History Writings by Henry David Thoreau (also pictured above). Rescued from Thoreau’s notebooks by Bradley Dean (editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin), this volume preserves the careful ecological thought of Thoreau toward the end of his life. Indeed, his work on seed dispersal was the last great project of Thoreau’s life.

Here’s a few more books from the Land Library’s shelves — from seed-saving and seed-starting, to the remarkable microphotography of Rob Kesseler that captures the evolutionary genius of something so tiny:

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Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth, The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel.

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Seeds: Time Capsules of Life by Rob Kesseler & Wolfgang Stuppy, with one of Rob Kesseler’s incredible microphotographs — Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), with one of its starlike hairs still attached (0.75 millimeters long).

And from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library, some wonderful volumes that piece together such a basic natural process — basic yes, and miraculous too:

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long, Seeds by Ken Robbins.

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Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Early Macken & Pam Paparone, From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons, A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards & Anca Hariton.

And for a last word, here is Henry David Thoreau on the origin of things:


“The Wellingtonia gigantea — the famous California tree, is a great thing — the seed from which it sprang a little thing — scarcely one traveller has noticed the seed at all — and so with all the seeds or origins of things.” — Henry David Thoreau



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